How Online Dating and Algorithms Changed the Way We Find Love

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As more of our lives move online, online dating has become more popular. While services like Match.com and OkCupid rule the roost, the true match makers are the algorithms generating percentages that tell users who they’re most compatible with. But those algorithms are far from perfect, and old-fashioned interaction still plays a key role.

Mathematician Chris McKinlay was unsatisfied with his experience on OkCupid and realized that he was doing it wrong. So he started messing with the algorithms. He created fake profiles to scrape data from the profiles of the kind of women he was interested in. The scripts even answered questions to harvest better data.

This robust data enabled McKinlay to develop a sampling technique, which clustered women by age, religion, political beliefs and other characteristics. He chose two clusters that caught his eye and optimized profiles — using honest answers — designed to appeal to each group.

After answering hundreds of questions, he ran a standard search. Ten thousand women from the local L.A. area all ranked as 90 percent matches, or higher. His plan had worked perfectly. McKinlay also developed a script that visited the profiles of the women so his account would appear as a recent visitor. He received around 400 messages per day.

McKinlay’s algorithm hacking is impressive. He’s now engaged to another former OkCupid user. And it makes a lot of sense to try out online dating, even if not with the number-crunching method that McKinlay employed.

According to a Pew study, there has never been a better time to try online dating. Eleven percent of adults in the U.S. and 38 percent of people “single and looking” are using dating apps and websites. Sixty-six percent of people using online dating services are going on dates, up more than 20 percent from eight years ago.

Relationship commitment is up too. Five percent of those married or in long-term relationships met their partner online, and that figure is double for relationships less than a decade old. Online dating isn’t nearly as scary some would have you believe and the dating pool is only going to get larger with time.

Image credit: Don Hankins

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